Friday, March 6, 2015

Character Depth and Grey's Anatomy - part one

There's a lot to learn from TV series - and today I thought I'd write a post about how Grey's Anatomy manages to create such compelling characters through the use of family. I haven't gone into all the family members of the various characters, just a few, to illustrate...

If you don't watch Greys, it doesn't matter - this post will be general enough to make my points (hopefully) so don't tune out just yet!

Grey's Anatomy is the creation of the hugely talented Shonda Rhimes.

So, the titular character in Grey's is Dr Meredith Grey.
She's married, and has 2 kids. She's a busy doctor juggling work and family. But where the character depth comes in, is her history - her family dynamic. 
She's driven to succeed in her job, because her mother was a famous surgeon who would only love her if she was successful. Her relationship with Dr Shepard (McDreamy) starts with her one night stand with a married man - her mother also had an affair with a married man. She is fearful of developing Alzheimer's Disease - just as her mother did. She's closed off and slow to trust. Her mother left her father, and she had little contact with him-he had another family after his marriage to Meredith's mother broke up. She relies on close friends, and is suspicious of strangers.

So Meredith's wound: Brought up by a woman determined to succeed in her career, and see her daughter follow in her footsteps. Only child. Hothoused, Lonely. Not shown love, and therefore unable to handle it when she is shown it.

How is this illustrated? By throwing family members at her! Her mother reappears in flashback episodes - in a moment of lucidity from her disease, she confesses she is disappointed at how ordinary Meredith has become. Next, her half-sister Lexie starts to work in the hospital, and we see how different their upbringings were, and how difficult Meredith finds it to trust. In the current season, another half-sister that Meredith didn't know she had, Maggie, appears. When Meredith learns that Maggie is her sister, her reaction is typical. First she doesn't believe her mother could have had a secret child and given it up for adoption, so she challenges Maggie. Next, she accepts the fact, but doesn't hold out the hand of friendship, it is up to her more balanced, emotionally giving husband to embrace the newcomer. The family, appearing in flashback or real time, explain how Meredith is the way she is - and with her wounds visible, the audience gets to see her work through them, to grow and change.

Meredith's struggles with emotional matters is also illustrated through her interactions with her husband Derek's big, open, family. He has many sisters, some of whom pop up in Greys. In one scene, his sister Lizzie arrives and berates Meredith for not letting her know that they have adopted a daughter - she says "We're family."   But family means something different to Meredith, and we see how uncomfortable she is being embraced by her sister-in-law, she wants to keep things at arms length. When later she softens towards Lizzie, she confides that she is pregnant...sharing precious news to let Lizzie know that she does understand what family means to Derek and his sisters-showing that she is trying to change.

In my next blog post, I'm going to continue in this theme - and explore some of the other characters' family dynamic and how bringing family members in to the series acts as a powerful way to show the clash between their hidden inner selves (formed through childhood and family) and their surface selves.


  1. I love Grey's Anatomy! And I think all of the characters are great. The creators did an awesome making making the deep and real.

  2. I agree with you Chrys! I love it!